NBAA Convention News

Daher takeover of Socata could yield new light twin

 - October 1, 2008, 5:51 AM

EADS Socata (Booth No. 4484) and Daher Aerospace (Booth No. 4381) are developing joint projects in business aviation and aero structures that promise to significantly boost each company’s presence in these areas. As part of the partnership, Daher will take over an undisclosed majority stake in Socata from EADS, with the new company likely to seek a partner to launch a twin-engine business turboprop as soon as next year.

French business daily Les Echos reported that EADS would retain 30 to 40 percent of Socata, with operational control being handed over to Daher. Daher has interests in the automotive, defense and nuclear industries, but until now has been on the sidelines of major aerospace programs. The family-owned company’s aerospace activities include composite structures, fluid distribution and cabin insulation products for commercial and business airplanes and civil and military helicopters.
While Airbus and Eurocopter are major clients, Daher also produces components for other companies, including as a subcontractor to Stork-Fokker on Gulfstream’s new G650. It has opened a new facility in Mexico and another in Australia, in a joint venture with Eurocopter.

A Socata spokesman said the two companies have been notified that they have won the contract to supply landing gear doors for the new midsize, long-range Airbus A350XWB due to enter service in 2013. The EADS subsidiary also has a separate bid outstanding to supply engine masts for the new aircraft.

Meanwhile, Socata has announced that it will offer the new Garmin Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT) as an optional feature on its new G1000-equipped TBM 850.

Expanding the TBM Series

As of July 1, EADS Socata had booked orders for 201 copies of TBM 850 since the airplane was launched in mid-December 2005. The TBM 850 includes an integrated all-glass flight deck based on the last-generation Garmin G1000 system similar to the panel of the Cessna Citation Mustang. At the end of July, Socata announced an upgrade with the Garmin SVT, which  presents a 3-D depiction of terrain, obstacles and traffic on the G1000’s primary flight display (PFD) so that the avionics panel replicates what pilots would see outside the cockpit on a clear day. The SVT will be available as an option on new G1000-equipped TBM 850s later this fall. It will also be available for retrofit.

Socata’s backlog of 92 aircraft includes 49 copies earmarked for delivery next year, representing three quarters of next year’s scheduled production. The company delivered 24 TBM 850s as of July 15 this year. About 70 percent of sales have been going to U.S. customers, 20 percent to those in Europe and 10 percent to buyers in South America, Asia and the Pacific.

EADS Socata vice president for sales and marketing Nicholas Chabbert attributed the “growing success” of the TBM 850 to the fact that “some small and medium business jet owners are now considering the TBM as a viable alternative to a very light jet–or even larger jet-powered aircraft–which are more expensive to operate. The increase in fuel prices also is influencing decisions in favor of the TBM 850.”

The tie-up between Tarbes, France-based Socata and Daher has been rumored for months. Although Socata’s healthy order book has lifted it into profit after four years in the doldrums, EADS chief executive Louis Gallois said in January that the company is unable to develop its aircraft manufacturing and aero structures businesses without outside support. Daher is one of two companies considered a potential future partner, with Italian turboprop aircraft manufacturer Piaggio also having been mooted.

Socata CEO Jean-Michel Leonard also said in January that the manufacturer’s exclusive deal with Daher to bid for packages of work on the A350XWB required Socata to provide investment of $150 million. It has expertise in fuselage construction but not the financial resources necessary to keep up with demand for more lightweight, less fuel-hungry equipment. Socata is also evaluating development of the larger, twin-engine business aircraft that would add to, but initially not replace, the TBM 850, and is seeking financial or industrial partners to develop it. A decision on a new aircraft is expected next year.

The U.S. TBM Owners and Pilots Association recognized in a statement that there can be “downsides to business consolidations but there can also be opportunities for new product directions and even new financial resources for future developments.” Association members expect to meet Socata executives to discuss the impact of any changes affecting operators and “look forward to meeting the executives from Daher when the time is right.”